Thoughts on a reader's question

I’d like to begin this entry with my reply to a question from a reader in Brooklyn, NY:

Q: “Since so much of writing is re-writing, how do you know when you're done?”

A: This is an excellent question!!

If you have taken into account all of the suggestions (and triple checked your work for typos) you should be at the stage of your first rewrite.  After you've re-read your work with the changes made, you will get a gut sense of whether or not you need to continue to rework & rewrite it yet again. No matter what you decide this is a sign of success, not failure.

If you do feel work is still needed, put it aside & do something else. Return to it when it's almost been forgotten to see if you're done rewriting.  You will feel satisfied with your work and will know when you are truly finished.  You will feel that it's finally done. I usually find that I reach this point after I've worked very hard and been away from a particular piece of writing for a breather. You are the only one who should be the judge of this feeling of completion. (Truman Capote was reportedly a huge fan of rewriting his work until he felt it was as close to his idea of perfection as possible.) I hope this helps you.  Welcome to the Re-writers Club!

* *

The above multi-faceted  question has brought the subject of completion to my mind.  In short: How do we all know when we are really finished with something we’ve been working on?

In cooking (one of my pleasures aside from writing) it’s more obvious, but I’ve also had many great, successful replays with leftovers from previously finished meals that were cooked a day or two ago.  I’m very good at the art my father’s generation (commonly known as the Greatest Generation) who lived through WWII perfected: making dinner from whatever was left in the fridge. Leftover plain macaroni (glamorized on the Food Network as “pasta”) easily becomes a new meal of “fried macaroni” if cooked with a beaten egg or two and some sauteed onion in a skillet coated with olive oil. Served hot with some bread and salad and a generous grating of Parmigiana Reggiano or Pecorino (sheep’s milk) cheese, it’s a second act for leftover food.  It makes the cook feel doubly satisfied - getting another meal from the previous meal’s abbondanza (abundance).  This is true completion & satisfaction for a cook who hates to waste food.

As Baby-Boomers the idea of never wasting food - that precious commodity that sent many of their grandparents on a journey here to America (the land of abbondanza) was taught to us first and second generation immigrants along with the alphabet.  The size of our individual portions of the ubiquitous Americanized specialties of Southern Italy (chicken & eggplant parmigiana, spaghetti, etc.) would serve two or three people if served in a restaurant in the old country.  No one who lived two generations ago would have believed that one of the greatest health problems of the USA in the 21st century would be obesity.

One of the motivating factors behind their immigration to this country was having enough food for their families: enough, but not too much - troppo. Extra food would be shared or used for another meal, but
never to be consumed when your belly was already full. As my Granma Mary would say: “Listen to your stomach. It will tell you when to stop eating.”

Any time we didn’t follow this advice because the food tasted sooo good that we had to have more, we regretted it.  Out came the bottle of Brioschi and a glass of water - which was the quickest home remedy
back then for overindulgence in food. Although it tasted like a light lemon/lime soda when we drank it, we knew it was really punishment because we had stuffed ourselves and needed to bring up a burp that would settle our overstuffed stomachs.

During my childhood we knew that Gluttony was one of the Seven Deadly Sins and when we overindulged we almost always felt a bit ashamed afterwards, no matter how good the food had tasted while going into our mouths.

There were consequences to our well-being for indulging in any of these sins which were called Deadly for a reason. If you can name them all, email them to me along with your name and address & I’ll note you anonymously in my next blog and send you a personalized copy of my

And now: Basta (enough) non Troppo.  This blog is finished, completed, Finito.

Spirali Della Mia Mente – "The Spirals of My Mind"

Welcome to all visitors to my website and readers of my Blog!  

I value every one of you and greatly appreciate your time and interest; I will make my entries bi-monthly whenever possible so you have time to respond to me through my website email and/or ask questions about my topics or anything else on your minds related to writing, or to a question I’ve answered. Although I have excellent help with the running of the website I will be the one who reads and responds personally to you if you contact me and may include your words while protecting your identity as “a reader” or “a reader with a question”. If  you give me permission, I will include the area of the country from which you are contacting me – in Italics if it’s Brooklyn!

I’ve decided to start blogging because of the numerous questions I’ve received from people who have read my book: specifically how I got started writing it, continued and finally finished and printed it through Xulon Press, my self-publisher of choice after much research in the field and many futile attempts to do it traditionally through a literary agent, etc . This explanation of how I advise people to get started writing will not be the topic of every one of my blogs, but it’s a good place to begin.  

I’ve titled it as I have because I find that as a writer, and in life in general (especially in my conversations with those close to me) my mind tends to bounce from topic to topic as we exchange ideas, information and laughs. I want this blog to reflect that intimate, casual give and take so I will bounce around with my information and topics as the spirit moves me. I also honor my Italian/Sicilian – American heritage with a title in both languages that also honors my love of pasta! 

Enough introduction – Here we go!

  • *

This past week I was approached by a woman to whom I had given a copy of my book: “Duck And Cover: A Memoir of My 1960’s Brooklyn the week before. We had met when I took over facilitating a class at my parish. I had formerly been a member of similar classes for a few years. I was not happy to become the one in charge, but did it out of a sense of obligation when the former teacher had left unexpectedly.  As one of my students she asked me for help because she had always wanted to gather a lot of material she had researched and collected for a book of her own about her family and after attending my first class, she felt I might be a source of help in getting the ball rolling on her own project. 

The first piece of advice I gave to her was to go to our local community college (as I had done many years ago) and sign up for a course in writing: in her case, creative non-fiction or specifically, memoir.  Even though she had a lot of material written already, I told her that a good, professional writing teacher would help her organize it along a central theme and even help her discover what that theme was.  I offer this same advice to anyone reading my blog as well.

Although you may have been out of school for many years (as I was when I began my course) and dislike the idea of sitting in a classroom again, it will help discipline you and force you to write (and re-write) frequently and mindfully.  As a former teacher, I understand and have experienced sitting on both sides of the desk and urge you to think about doing this. Our very moderately priced community colleges are an often untapped source of knowledge to many people who “want to write” but can’t seem to get started, as well as to the students who would not be able to attend college at all but for their affordable tuition. 

The discipline of being a member of a class and committing to do the writing work necessary is half the battle.  It forces you to do the writing that you say you want to do. It helps you to determine if this is really what you want to be when you grow up (or get older as in my case)!

There’s an old saying that half of life is just showing up - I couldn’t agree more.  In this age of electronic communication  and barriers to live human contact (and no, I’m not anti-internet or against our phones which are really hand-held computers. I had my book edited and published via the world wide web) there is really no substitute for physically sitting in a classroom and experiencing other writers or would-be writers on an ongoing basis.  You will be amazed at how much you learn from the others in your class as well as from the instructor, if you listen and are not afraid of their (hopefully gently delivered) criticism and suggestions. To all aspiring writers I say:

Welcome all of these, ignore any mean-spirited ones and Re-Write.

During my first attempts at writing in Lafayette HS in Brooklyn (which I speak about in Chapter 10 “Teach Me” in my book) my wonderful creative writing teacher responded to my question about rewriting an article for the school Literary Magazine by telling me that a famous, unnamed writer once said: “I am not a writer; I am a rewriter”.  I did rewrite the article and, to my delight, it was published in the next issue. This is the mantra I’ve lived by in my work ever since and it’s enabled me to not just accept, but to welcome both criticism of and suggestions about my writing.  I know I can always make it better and welcome and embrace the opportunity to do so.  Please fire away if you want to address anything I’ve written here and I will welcome your input, but first write and then rewrite yourself.  It’s the best advice I’ve ever received and gives me hope that we can all continue to improve as writers. And sometimes I wish I could also rewrite in my life!

Please send comments and questions to me. My next blog will follow in about two weeks.